First built 20 years ago as a homage to the works Mk1 Fiesta, this tribute is now enjoying a new lease of life on the European Historic rally scene.
Back in the late ’70s and early ’80s, with the Mk1 Fiesta at the top of the sales charts, and the men at the top of Ford’s motorsport programme looking for a Mk2 Escort replacement there were several attempts to get Fiestas onto the rally stages.
The Mk1’s debut came in 1979 at the Monte Carlo Rally with legends, Ari Vatanen driving a left-hand drive Ford Germany-built car, and Roger Clark in a Boreham-built Ford Motorsport racer, both in Group 2 guise.
Ari finished 10th overall with some fast stage times and Roger was 13th, which was a good showing for a brand-new car still in the development stage with just 1600cc and
150 bhp. In reality, that was about the height the cars would ever reach, however. Roger Clark and later, Louise Aitken Walker among others, would try hard in the UK and Ireland to get the car competitive. But with the Mk2 Escort staying strong (in a well-proven and relatively cheap package) and the Fiesta proving costly to maintain and develop, hard to drive and unloved by many drivers, the programme petered out.
Only five or six works cars were officially built (Ford’s historical record-keeping being famously patchy through the period), with others in later years being built up from spare shells and mechanicals. Many of those were adapted and destroyed in the harsh environment of rallycross in subsequent years — leaving the Mk1 Fiesta, as a rally car, a very rare beast.
John Taylor’s Haynes of Maidstone rally team, also had a go at building Fiesta rally cars, this time with BDA engines installed. But once more, costs involved, reliability issues and lack of success ended the attempt. It was a similar story in European rallying for the Fiesta with the only notable appearances being in the Monte again, with a Mk1 piloted by Spaniard, Salvador Servia finishing 9th, 22nd and 14th respectively in 1980, 1981 and 1982. Privateers from all over Europe did try to get the Fiesta model out there as a competitor, but even limited success was hard to come by.
One German Ford fanatic did notice the Fiesta’s efforts to conquer the world of rallying, however, and 20 years ago Carsten Wallendszuz decide he would pay homage to the brave, but flawed, rally car programme by building himself a replica motorsport Mk1. Painted a bright Renault green, and hence nicknamed The Frog, Carsten’s car is now under new ownership and over two decades later is finally beginning to make a name for itself on the European Rally scene, this time as an Historic.
German Fiesta specialist, Stephan Müller, a friend to both Carsten and The Frog’s present owner Wolfgang Pletsch, takes up the story:
“Carsten had originally bought the Mk1 Fiesta 20 years ago to restore as a show car but decided he would go further and turn it into a race car… and then a rally car. The solid shell was prepared with some RS arches, and Heigo modified the roll cage at that firm’s premises. While that process was taking place, he went shopping for genuine Group 2 parts and other spares in Germany, the UK and the USA.
“A full set of Koni rally suspension was acquired, along with the braking system from a scrap Mk1 XR2, which would be plenty powerful enough to stop the lightweight Fiesta in all conditions.
For the power, Carsten approached one of the most respected names in classic Ford engines, Vulcan Engineering, which has its base near the famous Brands Hatch race circuit. Vulcan built up a complete 1600 Crossflow package with Maxiflow head, Kent 234 cam, twin Weber 40 DCOE carburettors and a Ford Motorsport USA ignition system. This produces approximately 135 bhp.
“One of the advertisers Carsten approached was Wolfgang, a well-known historic car fan and professional paint sprayer. A deal was done on some parts and then he was also commissioned to spray the Fiesta with its bright green topcoats.
“When the build-up was complete Carsten used the Frog on events at the Nürburgring and rallies around Europe, but eventually other projects took over his time and the car was tucked away.
“One day he mentioned to Wolfgang that he was likely to break it for parts. Wolfgang’s words were ‘no way!’ and an offer was made to buy it, which was accepted.”
That gave the Fiesta a new lease of life, and Wolfang used the car regularly for a few years on motorsport events and for Autotesting. Unfortunately, on one such event, the distributor gear sheared causing some engine damage, and another long spell in the corner of a workshop followed.
Step forward the Fiesta’s second rescuer… Wolfgang’s motorsport-crazy daughter Alina, who had grown up watching her Dad compete in the quick little hatch. It was Alina who persuaded him to rebuild the Vulcan motor saying that she’d love to go out and co-drive in a rally with him in the car. Of course, that meant Wolfgang had to get on and get the car running again.
The newly-flourishing rally team of Wolfgang, Alina and The Frog nearly came to a crashing halt almost immediately, with an accident in their first rally together, but this time Alina was not going to let the car be pushed into a corner again, and the damage was fixed in time for a front-running performance in the 2017 historic Rallye Köln Ahrweiler. Wolfgang was thrilled to drive in and finish an event that for many years he had marshalled, or serviced cars in.
And this year it will be Alina’s turn to take control of the Fiesta Frog, as the pair swap seats and she will drive her first classic rally. She can’t wait!
Words Marc Stretton
Photos Adrian Brannan
See more photos and get the full spec on this works Mk1 Fiesta tribute in the April 2018 issue
Click here to see more Classic Ford feature cars.